Playing his first game of the season following a one-game suspension against Liberty due to hazing allegations, sophomore cornerback Brian Walker wasn’t made available despite making two of the biggest plays that lifted the Tar Heels in pivotal moments.
“We made enough mistakes to lose the game,” Coach Larry Fedora said.
But Walker’s ability to shine in the tensest of times allowed the Tar Heels (2-0, 0-0 ACC) to eek out a victory.
After the first quarter didn’t even see either team make a trip to the red zone, the Aztecs (1-1, 0-0 MWC) finally found their way inside the Tar Heel 20-yard line four minutes into the second quarter.
With the threat of giving up the first points of the game staring them in the face, the Tar Heels needed to make a stand.
“We did let up some big plays, which is something we need to correct,” linebacker Jeff Schoettmer said. “But once you get in the red zone, it’s the same as the open field. We can still shut them out.”
But the Tar Heels did more than just shut the Aztecs out in that drive.
With help from Schoettmer, who put pressure on quarterback Quinn Kaehler, Walker plucked a pick in the end zone and ran it back the length of the field to make it a 7-0 game after the extra kick was good.
“I saw the quarterback move, so I stuck my foot in the ground and chased after him,” Schoettmer said.
“Brian did the rest.”
Taking the ball 100 yards on the return, Walker became only the third Tar Heel to ever return an interception the length of the field.
But still, Schoettmer is convinced it wasn’t just a one-time thing.
“That can happen every time,” he said. “So once they get down there we can’t panic.”
Walker wasn’t about to panic Saturday night though — even when the only Tar Heel points on the board were his.
“He was in there when we were down 21-7. He was firing guys up, telling them to pick their heads up,” Schoettmer said. “He’s a younger guy, but he’s not afraid to tell people what’s going on.”
Not only is Walker not afraid to tell people “what’s going on,” he’s not afraid to tell people what’s going to happen in the future either.
So when Walker reeled in a second interception while the Tar Heels were only up by one point in the fourth quarter, safety Tim Scott shouldn’t have been surprised.
“(Walker) is just a playmaker. He’s one of those guys who wants to get those interceptions,” Scott said. “He told us that before the game — that he was going to do something.
And he proved that. He did it twice.”
Walker was not in the room to talk to the media or answer questions about the alleged hazing incident that led to his suspension.
But on Saturday night, Walker didn’t need to verbally communicate what was going on with his game — his play itself did a suitable job.